A University of California, Berkeley task force is blaming conservative students for destructive protests on campus, saying that hosting conservative speakers was “likely to incite a violent reaction.”
The report was filed on April 10 by a Commission on Free Speech that Chancellor Carol Christ created last October to “analyze events featuring external speakers” on campus in the wake of a series of disruptive protests against planned appearances by speakers such as Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Ann Coulter.
“Although those speakers had every right to speak and were entitled to protection, they did not need to be on campus to exercise the right of free speech,” the commission declares, speculating that they were only invited “in order to advance a facile narrative that universities are not tolerant of conservative speech.”
“The Commission was charged with ‘developing a set of recommendations that preserve the campus’s firm commitment to free expression while reducing the likelihood of such expression disrupting the mission of education, research, and public service,’” the report explains, referencing the objectives set by Christ .
According to the document, the commission was formed in October 2017 following a wave of protest against conservative speakers who were invited to lecture at the university. The commission specifically highlights the difference between the polite reception Shapiro received when he visited campus on April 11, 2016 compared to his latest speech on campus in September of last year, which cost the university approximately $600,000 in security.
“Although of course many things changed during the 17 months between Shapiro’s campus engagements, our conclusion is that the rise of ultra-conservative rhetoric, including white supremacist views and protest marches, legitimized by the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, encouraged far-right and alt-right activists to ‘spike the football’ at Berkeley,” the commission writes.
“This provoked an at-times violent (and condemnable) response from the extreme left, tearing at the campus’s social fabric,” the document adds.
The report goes on to contend that all of the events that sparked protests last year “were sponsored by very small groups of students working closely with outside organizations,” asserting that “at least some of the 2017 events at Berkeley can now be seen to be part of a coordinated campaign to organize appearances on American campuses likely to incite a violent reaction, in order to advance a facile narrative that universities are not tolerant of conservative speech.”
The task force further elaborates that while there is “plausibility” to the claim that Shapiro’s visit was intended to “broaden the political discourse” on campus, many of its members believe that Yiannopoulos and Coulter only came to the university “in pursuit of wealth and fame.”
“We should, of course, be wary of painting with an overly broad brush,” the report explained. “In Shapiro’s case, the claim that his invitation to campus was intended to broaden the political discourse has some plausibility, as his commitment to the issue long predates the polarizing 2016 election.”
“Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter, however, expressed little interest in reasoned discussion of contentious issues or in defending or revising their views through argument,” the commission continued. “Many Commission members are skeptical of these speakers’ commitment to anything other than the pursuit of wealth and fame through the instigation of anger, fear, and vengefulness in their hard-right constituency.”
The university officials insist that “speech of this kind is hard to defend” due to “the acute distress it caused (and was intended to cause) to staff and students, many of whom felt threatened and targeted by the speakers and by the outside groups financing their appearances.”
The report concedes that “more than eighty years of First Amendment law would need to be overturned for the campus to legally prohibit potentially disruptive events that offer little value as contributions to campus discourse,” saying its members have “no appetite for instigating a legal battle over this issue.”
In an attempt to “reduce the likelihood of disruptions” at future campus events, however, the report includes a catalogue of policy recommendations that, according to the commission, would partially tackle the issue.
“The first [recommendation] is that the campus open a third free speech zone, West Crescent, and encourage non-departmental hosts to hold their events there,” the report states, adding that the school may consider moving one of its speech zones to a new location as an alternative.
Likewise, the authors of the report observe that for some UC Berkeley students and staff, the police presence during controversial campus events “was intimidating and alienating.”
“The Commission recognizes that the UCPD has an obligation to preserve the physical safety of everyone on campus, which may sometimes require a show of force,” the report admits. “Nonetheless, the Commission recommends that the campus take steps to make the police a less intimidating presence at controversial events.”
Other recommendations include “counterprogramming during disruptive events,” “improving communication about disruptive events,” establishing a “campuswide events database,” and more.
One of the final recommendations entails encouraging the administration to “continue the steps that have already been undertaken to nurture a culture of reasoned engagement with a wide range of political and ideological viewpoints.”
A spokesperson for UC Berkeley, however, told Campus Reform that the report does not necessarily reflect school’s official commission, and that its recommendations must still be evaluated by the administration.
“It has been only a few days since the report was completed and delivered to the Chancellor and her leadership team. Given the importance and complexity of the issues covered by the report, they intend to take the time necessary to carefully review and discuss the commission’s findings and recommendations,” the spokesperson explained. “As part of her commitment to transparency and engagement, Chancellor Christ will keep the campus community informed about her plans to ensure our University maintains its unwavering support for Free Speech.
“And, just to clarify,” the official added, “the views expressed in the report are those of the commission and don’t necessarily represent the perspectives of the Chancellor or her administration.”